On the 14th of October 2019, President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the Financial Times (FT) Africa Summit 2019 in London, UK. He used the event to sell not only South Africa as an investment destination, but the entire African continent. The President punted the likely economic, political and social benefits that will come with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). He also cited the changing political and economic environment in Africa where “the new generation of leaders of Ahmed Abiy’s ilk are bold, courageous and are focused on creating an Africa that is at peace with itself and growing the economies of African countries through innovation, infrastructure development and trade.” While there are several positive changes taking place, the continent is still faced with a myriad of challenges that hamper its growth and development; something South Africa is alive to and is working collaboratively with other countries to address.
Africa’s development has firmly been at the centre of South Africa’s foreign policy since the year 2000. Over the years, this has been articulated as “Advancing the African Agenda” in multilateral platforms such as the G20, the United Nations and BRICS. After all, a developed Africa is a good place for South African companies to do business. This year, South Africa took up its seat as a Non-Permanent Member of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and committed itself to address challenges of peace, security and development, particularly on the continent. As the incoming Chair of the African Union (AU) next January, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that his responsibility will be to guide the implementation of the agreement on the AfCFTA aimed at promoting intra-African trade. A continent whose members are not at war with each other is a continent that is co-building and co-developing.
A more open Africa will not only ease the cost of doing business amongst African countries but will be good for South Africa’s bid to revive its economy and increase economic growth. Being the most industrialised economy in Africa, South Africa is well-positioned to benefit almost immediately from increased intra-Africa trade. Currently trade between African countries is only 15%, compared to 47% in the Americas, 61% in Asia and 67% in Europe. It is estimated that the AfCFTA could increase the value of intra-African trade from 15% to 25% by 2040. For the AfCFTA to be a success, it will require giving away a certain level of countries’ sovereignty for the greater good of the continent.
Even though President Ramaphosa tried his utmost best to highlight the positive things happening on the African continent, there are still factors holding the continent back. Policy and regulatory uncertainty, inadequate infrastructure, weak implementation and corruption have been the continent’s Achilles heel for some time. The above factors can be addressed by the strengthening and capacitating of state institutions to ensure that policy making and implementation is not tied to the whims of incumbent leaders, but rather the developmental plan of the country.
African leaders must accept that they do not have divine rights to the Presidency position in their countries and should always let the will of the people prevail. Though regular elections have become a norm, most of them have been marred by intimidation and abuse of state machinery by incumbents, which creates uneven playing fields to the detriment of fair democratic practices.
What African leaders can do to ensure their legitimate stay in power is to deliver on their election promises and put the development of their people and economies above their own interests. With vast human and natural resources, Africa’s industrialisation and development should be on par with developing countries such as China. However, due to lack of political will and selflessness, the continent is more destitute than before, to an extent where people risk their lives piling up in small boats in the hope of a better life across dangerous seas.
It is no doubt that leaders on the continent have realised the value that lies in cooperation and partnership on the continent. The relationship Africa has with the West and China will forever remain distorted in their favour unless countries learn to work collaboratively for their own common prosperity. As the incoming Chair of the AU, South Africa should use the opportunity to point to the fact that telling the good African story is not a one-man responsibility. All leaders on the continent should join the party and act as Ambassadors for the collective good of the continent.